Is vaping the way to a smokefree Aotearoa?


The Ministry of Health states vaping products have the potential to improve public health despite lack of evidence on long term effects

E-cigarettes made their debut in the early 2000s as a potential cessation device or an alternative to cigarette products. Almost twenty years later, the long term effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown.

In 2011, the New Zealand Government set a goal to be Smoke-free by 2025 and just last month it released a discussion document on Proposals For A Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan. Nancy Loucas, co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA), says the plan acknowledges vaping, but it fails to support it as a key factor to achieving a smoke-free nation.

“There’s a lot of talk about tougher rules and regulations for tobacco, but to achieve smoke-free, smokers also need to be presented with a viable, less harmful alternative – and that’s vaping,” Loucas says.

The Ministry of Health recognises vaping products have the potential to make a contribution to the Smokefree 2025 goal. However, this depends on how effective vapes are in replacing cigarettes for the 550,000 daily smokers in New Zealand.

Concerns remain over whether vaping products will encourage smoking for children and non-smokers. Last August, the Government introduced The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Vaping Amendment Bill. Among the many changes, the law banned advertising and made vape flavourings less accessible to curb appeal. Dairies, petrol stations and supermarkets only stock menthol, mint and tobacco flavours, while alternatives are available at specialty retailers and online.

“The Health Ministry, Health Promotion Agency, and the District Health Boards have all successfully run ‘Vape to Quit’ promotions and programmes, helping thousands of Kiwi smokers switch to vaping,” says Loucas.

“Why doesn’t the Government recommend ramping up this support and make ‘Vape to Quit’ a cornerstone component of Smokefree 2025? I suspect because vaping is its next target.”

A ban on vaping may not be far behind. A 2019 article published by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found significant ‘dual use’ of electronic cigarettes and tobacco. A nationally representative sample noted 63.9% of current e-cigarette users were also dual users of tobacco. Evidence also discovered that those aged 45 and older were twice as likely to be dual users compared to those aged 15-34.

There is still little known about the long-term effects of vaping. The longest study to date on the impact of e-cigarettes is only three and a half years, published in 2017 by Scientific Reports. Though vaping is seen as a ‘less harmful’ alternative to combustible cigarettes, it is not risk free.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that most studies compare e-cigarettes with conventional cigarettes. It points out that a conventional cigarette is the most harmful legal product that exists, and anything else will seem ‘harmless’ by comparison. The e-cigarette is an entirely different product, and when compared to combustible cigarettes; harmful ingredients, specific to vapes, may be overlooked.

The Ministry of Health has concluded that while vaping products are much less harmful than smoking tobacco, they are not completely harmless.

Reluctance to promote vaping as a “cornerstone component” is likely due to the ambiguity and lack of information surrounding long term effects.